"Slumdog" Song Stirs Campaign Controversy

A.R. Rahman holds the Oscars for best original score and for best original song "Jai Ho" for his work on "Slumdog Millionaire" during the 81st Academy Awards, Feb. 22, 2009, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. AP Photo/Matt Sayles

India's election campaign is going to the "Slumdogs."

It was initially panned in the country it portrays. But after eight Oscars, "Slumdog Millionaire" is such a sensation that India's main political parties are fighting over the right to play its signature song at campaign rallies.

One politician made a show of catching a matinee of the film - arriving in a rickshaw surrounded by reporters. Another longtime government critic said the film's portrayal of Mumbai's shantytowns sums up the current administration's failures.

The ruling Congress party has bought the exclusive rights to play "Jai Ho," which translates as "Be Victorious," at their election rallies, said senior party official Digvijay Singh. The song, played on the closing dance sequence of the film, won Best Song at the Academy Awards.

Congress plans to play the song at rallies and in commercials leading up to the national elections, which will be held in five phases beginning in April at the end of the ruling party's five-year term.

However, the main opposition, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Partym was not happy with Congress appropriating "Jai Ho" as its own.

"Anyone should be able to use the song. 'Jai Ho' should not belong to any one; it belongs to the country," Atul Shah, a member of the BJP campaign committee, told the NDTV news channel.

But the BJP will probably be frustrated.

Harindra Singh, the managing director of the Percept advertising agency, which negotiated the deal, said the party has bought "exclusive rights for political exploitation" for one year, meaning that no other political party could use the song. He declined to say how much they paid.

The film, which won eight Oscars including best film and best director, received negative reviews when it premiered in India for its graphic portrayal of Mumbai's slums and focus on poverty in the country.

But since its success at the Academy Awards, the country has embraced the film, from British director Danny Boyle, as its own.

Other politicians and parties have sought to associate themselves with the film, hoping some of its magic will rub off on their campaigns.

In the northern state of Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar - a member of the BJP-allied Janata Dal (United) party - took a very public midday break Thursday to see the film.

He even abandoned his motorcade to ride a bicycle rickshaw to the cinema, as security guards and reporters jogged along beside.

"Oh, come on," he said with a wry smile when asked if it was an election stunt. "I'm just going to see 'Slumdog' and felt like taking a rickshaw."

Still, at least one opposition politician, however, said Congress was welcome to take credit for the film.

"If it were not for Congress misrule for the last 60 years, there would be no slums and then no Slumdog (film) and no Oscar," Nanendra Modi, the BJP's Chief Minister of the western state of Gujarat told a recent election rally.

By Gavin Rabinowtiz
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